The Mirror Gives a How-Not-To Guide on Writing about VAWG
This is the headline the Mirror chose for the trial of Andrew Leigh who is accused of murdering his former wife Luan:
Husband 'drugged estranged wife before strangling her to death after hearing about new man'
The subheading reads:
Andrew Leigh is accused of murdering his wife of eight years Luan after she spurned his attempts to get back together with her
The Mirror makes it clear from the start that the person responsible for murdering Luan is Luan for having the temerity to end the relationship - and not just end the relationship but begin a new one. The Mirror insinuate that Luan was Andrew's possession - an object - who was not entitled to make any decisions that contravene his "rights". "His rights" being defined as whatever he wants regardless of Luan's bodily autonomy or personal freedom. In this construction, Luan is no longer human.
The very first sentence of the article includes the word "jealousy"; a word loved by defence attorneys, violent men, their apologists and the media.
A jealous husband drugged his wife before strangling her to death after finding out she had started a relationship with another man, a court heard.
Jealousy is an emotion. It is not a mitigating circumstance. An adult who is so incapable of controlling themselves that they commit murder due to 'jealousy' needs to be locked up to prevent them ever harming another person. It shouldn't result in sympathy for the perpetrator or a reduced jail sentence - but an indefinite one.
Sentence two follows jealousy up with 'spurned':
Andrew Leigh, 42, is accused of murdering his estranged wife of eight years Luan, 42, after she spurned his attempts to get back together with her.
Spurned, like rejected or jilted, imply that the victim is responsible for their murder. The correct way to report this is: "Andrew Leigh, 42, is accused of murdering Luan, 42,". Luan is not a possession. Luan, like all women, was entitled to end the relationship when she chose to end it and she was entitled to start a new relationship.
These previous sentences involve a slip of language because it is Andrew who chose to end the relationship, not Luan. This information is not made clear in the title, subheading or opening sentences because the writer, Bradley Jolly, chose to use the age-old go-to-excuse for violent men who kill their current or former partners: blaming them for ending the relationship.
Andrew made a choice to end the relationship but changed his mind a year later. The following implies that Luan was responsible for her murder because she chose to live her life without Andrew:
The court heard Leigh had moved out of the property around a year ago but wanted to rekindle his relationship with Luan but she had 'moved on'.
The implication is that Luan was not entitled to live her life without permission from Andrew. This is a typical defence tactic and one that responsible media reporting following the guidelines set out by the National Union of Journalists or the AVA project would have not written in this manner.
This is evidence of pre-meditation:
In a jealous revenge attack he then drugged her with sleeping pills before strangling her to death in her own bed, jurors were told.
Andrew took sleeping pills with him in order to drug Luan before killing her. It is not a "jealous, revenge attack" - it is murder.
Andrew drugged Luan. He then strangled her. The following morning, Andrew phoned Luan's sister to tell her "your sister passed away".
Opening the case Rachel Brand QC, prosecuting, said: "It was about 6.45am on June 29 when the defendant rang his wife's sister, a woman called Natasha Chamberlain.
"His opening remark was 'I am really sorry, Natasha, but your sister has passed away.'
"'Natasha replied: What the hell do you mean? What has happened?'
"He told her he found her dead in bed at about 10.30pm the previous evening but did not call an ambulance because he did know what to do at the time. He had killed his wife.
"When the ambulance arrived on the Sunday morning, Luan Leigh was as cold as ice."
Calling Luan's sister to inform her of the murder was malicious. It is a way of causing maximum pain to the family.
This is quite clear evidence of premeditation and stalking:
Jurors were told Leigh had drugged his wife on the Saturday evening with the over-the-counter sleeping pills Nytol, which contain antihistamines.
Traces of the main ingredients of Nytol were found in Mrs Leigh's blood during her post-mortem.
Ms Brand said: "We do not how much was given to Luan...but we do she was drugged. Police found the empty packet of tablets, along with their receipt and instructions of use in the house.
"He was on CCTV buying Nytol in the Lloyds pharmacy in Walmley on the Saturday morning."
The court heard Leigh had become aware Luan was dating somebody else after going through her phone and trying to hack her Facebook account.
Ms Brand added: "Luan told her sister and friends that he once locked her in her garage in a bid to get back together.
"He had also tried to hack into her Facebook account.
"About one week before he death, Luan told Andrew that she did not want him to go on a family holiday and gave him his money back. She wanted to take her mother instead.
"It transpired that the defendant had been snooping around her mobile phone on the evening of Saturday June 25.
"She had just starting seeing someone else and the defendant found out about it. He did not move on."
The trial, which is expected to last two weeks, continues.
In these short few sentences, we have evidence of Andrew stalking Luan on multiple occasions - both in person and online. He had locked her in a garage, which is evidence of continuing coercive control. Andrew then purchased a product to render Luan unconscious so that he could then strangle her to death. But, this is all Luan's fault for "moving on". Women aren't allowed to live their lives without permission from men - any challenge to men's ownership of their bodies is met with harassment, stalking and violence.
This has all the hallmarks of a domestic violence murder. It is not about 'revenge' or 'jealousy' or Andrew being a bit sad. He made a choice to end the relationship and then stalk and harass Luan when he decided he wanted to continue the relationship. Andrew made the choice to drug Luan and then kill her. Nothing Luan did or did not do led to her murder. Luan's murder is because of choices Andrew made - but this is not obvious from Jolly's article which is focused on Luan and effectively eradicates Andrew's responsibility for stalking, harassing and then murdering Luan.
Jealousy and revenge are not mitigating factors for murder or domestic violence. The media needs to step up and start accurately writing about male violence against women and girls as a choice that men make.